French skipper wins Vendée Globe in record time

Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Frenchman François Gabart, has become the youngest winner ever of the round-the-world Vendée Globe solo sailing race in record time.


The 29-year old, the youngest competitor and a first-timer of the prestigious race, crossed the finish line at Les Sables D’Olonne on the French Atlantic coast at 3:18pm local time on Sunday.

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He finished the race in 78 days, two hours, 16 minutes and 40 seconds, beating the previous record set in 2009 by his mentor, Michel Desjoyeaux, by six days.

Gabart’s arrival had been delayed because of bad weather.

Thousands of spectators and well-wishers lined the coastal town since early Sunday morning to welcome Gabart, who was just a spectator himself four years ago.

Gabart said he is very happy with the win, adding he knew could win the race, "but that wasn't the aim". 

"I began to harbour thoughts of winning when we were in the Indian Ocean. I told myself it was possible...But you could not afford to take a moment off."

When he faced tough conditions, "I never lowered my arms; never lowered my head, even for a few seconds. I just breathed deeply and continued."

His first major hurdle came just five days into the race when the boat's motor stopped working.

"That was a bit hard, but I managed to fix it," he said.

He said the most difficult thing about the race was the length, and when the seas were calm, he through about his friends, his team, and his girlfriend who were supporting him.

The win capped off a meteoric rise for the young engineer. From the onset of the race in November, Gabart took the lead with his boat MACIF.

On December 10, his boat set the ultimate solo distance record on a monuhull, covering 545 miles in 24 hours.

By the time he crossed the Equator after a close duel with fellow Frenchman Armel Le Cléac'h in the Southern Ocean, he was already five days ahead of Michel Desjoyeaux’s record.

Gabart said the close battles with Le Cléac'h brought out the best in both men.

"What we both experienced was exceptional. Although it’s more beaufitul for me, I think he’ll have good memories as well…All this intensity over the past three months is thanks to Armel, or because of Armel," adding that the duel was nothing compared to the pressure he placed on himself.

The previous youngest winner of the Vendée Globe was Alain Gautier, who was 30 years old when he won the 1992-1993 edition in 110 days and two hours.

The Vendée Globe, run every four years, is considered the ultimate solo sailing race.

Armel Le Cléac’h is expected to finish second later on Sunday followed by Welshman Alex Thomson.

Watch below: François Gabart's first words moments after winning the Vendée Globe (in French).

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